Our National Holiday

Groundhog

Finally, the day you’ve been living over and over again for almost a year is officially here! I’m referring, of course, to Groundhog Day, hitherto an obscure and underrated holiday whose elevation I’ve proposed as an apt celebration of the American character.

But I didn’t quite intend this level of elevation, this much capturing of our experience! Seriously, I could do without Groundhog Day as a national meme baked into our collective unconscious because of COVID Times. Like Bill Murray in the famous film, the alarm goes off and we are eternally trapped in the same day. Also with the same people, same four walls, same conversations, same Zoom screens, same Netflix stupor, same quiet unraveling. And that’s if we’re lucky!

The tedium is broken up by panic attacks about paying the bills, homeschooling the kids, elderly parents dying alone, sniffles spelling death–you name it. Not to mention anxiety about armed anti-maskers storming state capitols and militant anti-reality mobs staging an insurrection at our nation’s Capitol under the direction of Donald Trump. So much for subscribing to the “What’s the downside to humoring him?” theory.

This got me thinking about whether groundhogs are harmless hibernators who sometimes bite people who haul them out of their slumber, or if there’s a darker side to these reluctant rodent celebrities. As one gardening website asks, “Can that cute groundhog really cause damage?”

Yes, as it turns out. Much like insurrectionists and their leaders, “If not properly controlled, groundhogs can cause serious structural damage when burrowing. Their tunnels break apart building foundations . . . ” An easy Google ramble further reveals the answers to some of the most vexing questions, including my favorite: “Are groundhogs good for anything?” This is artfully evaded with a sort of “All God’s Creatures” vibe, plus a passing note that they’re vegetarians.

More pragmatically, we learn how to get rid of a groundhog:

Sprinkle blood meal, ground black pepper, dried blood, or talcum powder around the perimeter of your garden.

Puree and strain hot peppers and garlic, mix them with water and enough liquid soap to make it stick, and spray it liberally around the garden.

Would that these methods worked with insurrectionists and conspiracy theorists!

Anyway, today’s news is that the groundhog foretells 6 more weeks of winter. Had it been cloudy, it would have been slightly shorter. Since the daffodils are currently blooming where I live, and since the calendar notes that Spring will be here no matter what in about six weeks, I smell a hoax. Or some kind of rodent.

At any rate, we did wake to a slightly new day on January 20. President Biden has a plan to bring us out of our long, dark winter. No groundhog can tell how long it will take to emerge from Covid Times based on the presence or absence of its shadow. Assuming vaccination rates continue to improve, here’s a better predictor of how many more deaths will occur depending on how we (and Congress) all act in the meantime.

As Bill Murray learned in Groundhog Day, he had choices within his trap, choices that led to remaining stuck or breaking free. So do we.

Groundhog Day: The Quintessential Holiday

GroundhogGroundhog Day . . .  is a day celebrated on February 2. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will persist for six more weeks.

–Wikipedia

We have made it through the holidays—relatives endured, credit cards maxed out, waistlines larded with latkes, and other wonders of the season.  We have turned the page on the old year, ushering in the new with high hope and resolve.

But now that we’ve paid that first installment on Visa and skipped a session or two at the gym (seriously, setting the alarm a half hour early–what were we thinking?), it’s time to get real.

That’s why I propose elevating Groundhog Day, which best represents who we are as a people, to the holiday status it deserves. Sure, the Fourth of July honors our penchant for blowing things up. And Thanksgiving is a strong contender with its non-denominational emphasis on food. But that gratitude thing can be a deal breaker for some.

Groundhog Day, on the other hand, is for everyone—those who are pulled kicking and screaming into the sunlight only to go back to bed, and those who find a silver lining in a cloudy day.

And that’s just the tradition built around a reluctant rodent prognosticator! The other reason why February 2 should be our national holiday is captured by the 1993 film, Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray hits the alarm each morning only to find he is trapped in the same dreary day as before.

Sound familiar?

Yet Groundhog Day goes on to transform the Myth of Sisyphus into an embodiment of that all-American saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” (Freudians, those jaded Old Worlders, call it repetition compulsion.)

The definition of insanity may be repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But these do-overs also give us a chance to get it right. Bill Murray, by dint of repetition and infinitesimal change, emerges from the winter of his discontent into the sunny skies of Andie MacDowell’s favor. Surely that is a model worth celebrating.

I forget what happens to the groundhog. Probably it bites somebody and goes back to sleep. Which is another holiday tradition we can all embrace.